May 4, 2012
Surrounded by hundreds of friends, family and the students he mentored, Charlie Brown sported his trademark smile. Jazz and gospel music filled the air as Indiana State University honored his more than three decades of service.
Brown was more than just an administrator during his lengthy tenure as director of the university's African-American Cultural Center. He filled several roles - including surrogate parent, mentor, taxi, cook and spiritual leader.
"A pioneer, a legend, a servant leader, a man of God, a man of distinction, a father - these are just a few descriptors of the man we honor," said Carmen Tillery, vice president of student affairs.
Brown, together with others in the university and Terre Haute communities, grew the center from humble beginnings during the Civil Rights movement to a place that became the social center and second home to African-American students, many of whom were the first in their family to attend college. Student organizations, such as Black Student Union, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Black Greek Council and Ebony Majestic Choir, flourished under Brown's leadership.
"Charlie played an important role at a critical time in our nation's history," said ISU President Dan Bradley. "It is because of his efforts, coupled with those of other alumni, students, faculty and staff members, that our university's rich tradition of serving our African American students evolved."
Indiana State celebrated Brown's service by attaching his name to the center he served tirelessly. The Charles E. Brown African-American Cultural Center is a fitting tribute, according to Bradley.
"The center and its programs and services are literally the house that Charlie built," he said.
Bradley attributed Indiana State's diverse student body to "people like Charlie who took the time to make a difference."
Tanya Bell, a university trustee and president of Indiana Black Expo, was one of the many students Brown served.
"Mr. Brown positively influenced the lives of thousands of African-American students throughout the course of his career, including me," Bell said. "He raised the level of discussion about matters of diversity, developed exception and extensive programming and he created a safe haven and learning environment for African-American students."
Current students, including Jordan McBeth, paid tribute to the man who tirelessly served Indiana State and its students for a total of 36 years.
"It's because of you that I can stand here and make my dreams come true," McBeth, current president of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, said.
After the awards and accolades from alumni, the Indiana General Assembly and the National Association for Black Culture Centers, Brown spoke.
"I appreciate this," Brown said. "It's a good day to be a Sycamore."
Looking out from the podium and seeing the former students who became successful alumni, Brown recalled the long road traveled. He was one of the many who worked to establish an African-American Cultural Center as well as an African-American Studies program.
"We fought hard for that," Brown said. "We needed both of them. It took a lot of work - it didn't just happen."
Among those in the crowd was James Conyers, Indiana State's first African-American faculty member, hired in 1962.
"If it hadn't been for Dr. Conyers, we wouldn't have made it," Brown said, looking in Conyers' direction. "Thank you so much."
The center has come a long way since it was established in 1969, when there were only 200 African-American students on campus. Now the number is 1,000.
"We were a family - one big family," Brown recalled.
No matter what role he was filling at any given time, Brown's secret to success was simple.
"It's about working, studying and helping people out. It's about community," he said.
To recognize Brown's impact on the lives of generations of students, a group of alumni is working to raise $25,000 to create an endowment to fund scholarships for African-American students.
"The cultural center was a place of support, of refuge, of opportunity and fellowship," said John Brewer, a member of the African-American Alumni Council that is involved in the fundraising. "Thank you for your leadership, your guidance and most of all, your prayers."
Bradley said Brown's legacy should include his commitment to service.
"May we all learn from the example of student service that he set."
For more information about the Charles E. Brown Endowment supporting scholarships for African-American students attending Indiana State University, contact Roland Shelton, ISU Foundation, at 812-514-8518 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3783 or email@example.com
African American Cultural Center has been renamed the Charles E. Brown African American Cultural Center.